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How to set your Pixel's lock screen to identify music

If you're always scrambling to find out the name of a song, let your Pixel phone help you.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Person with headphones in enjoying music
Westend61/Getty Images

I cannot tell you how many times I've been minding my own business when I hear a song I must know or add to a playlist. In that moment, I'll call out, "Hey, Google, name this song!" 

Sometimes I catch it in time and sometimes I don't. When I miss out, I'll try to do a web search for some of the lyrics. But if it's a piece of classical music, I could be out of luck.

So when I discovered Now Playing, a handy feature on my Pixel 7 Pro that would automatically identify music playing nearby and display the title and artist on my home screen, naturally, I was interested. But first I was concerned about privacy. In order for a phone to recognize a song, it must be listening. 

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If a phone is listening, is someone receiving what it's hearing? Is what it's hearing being saved on a remote server for later listening?

According to information in the phone's settings, the feature uses "a song database stored on your device" and "the automatic recognition process never sends audio or background conversations to Google" or, based on my reading, to a third-party service. What this means is by enabling the feature, you're not disabling your privacy. 

If you're concerned and want to test this, you can always enable the feature, switch your device to Airplane mode, and try playing music nearby. If the feature still works, you can be even more certain your phone isn't sending information to anyone.

Note that if you enable the lock screen search button, a second setting, when you tap the button that does send "a short, digital audio fingerprint" to Google. This feature doesn't work in Airplane mode.

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I've tested the Now Playing feature and found it to be pretty accurate, regardless of genre. I have found, however, that it will often depend on words to identify the piece of music. For example, it was able to identify Mozart's "Requiem in D Minor, K. 626," once the singers joined in. 

When I gave it Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," it recognized it immediately. It did have a bit of trouble with the Hellraiser soundtrack by Ben Lovett, in that it couldn't recognize a single song. I tested it against other soundtracks and found it couldn't even recognize one of the most recognizable pieces of music, the "Theme From Jurassic Park" by John Williams -- nor was it able to recognize Williams' other giant hit, "Star Wars Main Title." 

Outside of original soundtracks, the feature was shockingly accurate, even with some of my more obscure artists. Just know that the feature is a bit iffy on instrumental tracks (although it did immediately recognize "YYZ" by Rush). In other words, your mileage may vary.

If this sounds like a feature you might want to make use of, let me show you how to enable it.

How to set your Pixel's lock screen to identify music with Now Playing


The only thing you'll need for this is a Pixel phone. All Pixel phones except the first-gen model have a version of this feature; starting with the Pixel 3a there's a favorite feature, and the Pixel 4 and onward have the lock screen search button.  

That's all you need. Let's recognize some music.

1. Open Settings

Unlock your Android device, pull down the Notification Shade twice, and tap the gear icon at the bottom right of the screen.

2. Open Now Playing

From the Settings app, locate and tap Sound & Vibration. From that new page, look for and tap Now Playing.

The Now Playing entry in the Sound & Vibration page.

Getting ready to enable the Now Playing feature on my Pixel 7 Pro.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

3. Enable Now Playing

Tap the ON/OFF slider for "Identify songs playing nearby." (You may also want to toggle on the slider for "Show search button on lock screen" for music that's not in its database.)

The Now Playing ON/OFF slider.

Enabling Now Playing in Android 13 on a Pixel 7 Pro.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

4. Wait for the database to download

After you enable the feature, Android will automatically download the song database to your phone. Now Playing will not function until this playlist is saved to your device, so give it time. 

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You'll know the database download is complete when the" Downloading song database" warning goes away.

The song database download warning.

The song database is still downloading.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

How to use Now Playing

You don't have to do anything to use Now Playing. When your device hears music, it will automatically display its best guess (which is usually correct) on your device's lock screen. 

Now Playing listing Tom Sawyer by Rush on the Android lock screen.

Tom Sawyer, by Rush, was properly recognized (as it should).

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

And that's all there is to enabling and using the Pixel Now Playing feature, which helps take the guesswork out of naming songs you don't recognize. You can also tap the information displayed for more options, such as opening the song on YouTube.

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If you've also enabled the lock screen search button, then when music is playing nearby that it can't identify, you'll see a small circular icon of a musical note in the same place you'd see the title and artist of a recognized track. Tap this for a search, and if it finds the track it'll give you the same options.

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